While golfers have tiptoed around their negotiations with LIV Golf and frequently bristle at questions about the league, Charles Barkley is taking no such tack.
The Basketball Hall of Famer and TNT broadcaster is approaching his flirtation with the controversial Saudi Arabia-backed golf league as he does most subjects — with candor.
Barkley, who’s acknowledged that he’s in negotiations with LIV Golf and is playing in the league’s New Jersey Pro-Am this week at a Trump golf course, spoke with The Dan Patrick Show on Monday about the talks. He named his price to join the league as a broadcaster while acknowledging that it could mark the end of his TNT career. He then gave the league an ultimatum.
So what would it take for Barkley to join LIV Golf?
Barkley referenced the reported “crazy” LIV Golf paydays secured by the league’s top names including $200 million for Phil Mickelson and $150 million for Dustin Johnson.
“If they offer me something crazy, I’m gonna take it too,” Barkley told Patrick.
When asked what kind of offer would secure his services, Barkley thought about it but stopped short of naming a specific number.
“Considering how much I make now, it would take a really huge number for me to give up my life right now,” Barkley continued. “I’m not gonna give up my life for … I don’t like to talk about how much money I make.”
Patrick then framed the question in a manner that did prompt Barkley to acknowledge a specific number, asking him if he would sign on for three times his hypothetical $20 million in annual income, a number that Barkley confirmed was close to accurate.
“If they triple it, next time I’m on your show, the first question better be ‘Charles, where we celebrating at tonight?’ That should be your first question if they triple what I’m making now.”
So there you have it. Charles Barkley will bolt for LIV Golf if they offer him $60 million a year — or somewhere thereabouts. Would he take less? He didn’t say.
Barkley then told Patrick that he needs to have an offer soon, or discussions are over.
“I’m gonna give him a deadline,” Barkley said of LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman. “The deadline’s gonna be Thursday. … I’m not gonna keep TNT in limbo, to be honest with you. I don’t think it’s fair to them. …
“They’ve gotten plenty of play out of me coming to play up there Thursday. I’m not just gonna be no show pony. I got y’all pub for a week. Don’t be wasting my time. I’m not gonna waste ya’ll time. But when I leave New Jersey Thursday night, if I don’t have an offer in hand, it’s over.”
A fraught decision for Barkley
While Barkley’s negotiating in public, he’s making one thing clear. He has a price to join a league that’s funded wholly by a Saudi Arabian government with a considerable track record of human rights abuses. That the league is shelling out such exorbitant numbers to attract top talent suggests that it is indeed a “sportswashing” effort to legitimize a regime on a world stage rather than a profit-focused venture.
It’s a tactic that’s been used on the global sports stage before. See Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime and the 1936 Olympics. See, more frequently, the the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and 2022. See the upcoming World Cup in Qatar that’s reportedly actively engaging in human rights atrocities to build the facilities that will stage the games.
Barkley has balked at the commentary surrounding LIV Golf, lambasting critics as engaging in “selective outrage.”
“Listen, they are making up words, like blood money and sportswashing,” Barkley told the New York Post last week. “I said, ‘We have all taken blood money and we all have sportswashed something, so I don’t like those words, to be honest with you.”
“If you are in pro sports, you are taking some type of money from not a great cause.”
The NBA’s relationship with China is frequently held up as an example that Barkley’s citing. The league actively does business with a nation likewise known for for an active record of human rights abuses. The NBA and its players who conduct business with China are the subject of fair criticism.
Meanwhile the U.S. government actively conducts business with the Saudis as demonstrated by President Joe Biden’s visit to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last week amid surging oil prices. The U.S. government holds bin Salman responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
There’s righteous criticism to be had around. There’s also a notable difference between the NBA’s relationship with China and LIV Golf’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. The NBA doesn’t exist solely to prop up China. LIV Golf, meanwhile, exists as a mechanism to improve Saudi Arabia’s standing on the global stage with the paychecks signed by the Saudi government. And that’s the crux of the outrage targeting LIV Golf.
If Barkley does sign up for those paychecks, he’s likewise signing up for the fallout that accompanies his decision. That means the possible end to his stint as a beloved NBA broadcaster that’s defined his post-playing career. It means moving on from the forefront of sports commentary to a niche league that doesn’t have a broadcast deal. It means alienating a significant portion of his fanbase.
And he appears at peace with all of that that. As long as the price is right.